Everyone is waiting for spring, after all, that means the start of sakura or cherry blossom season. April also marks the start of the school year in Japan. If you’re a new parent there, this may mean that you’re faced with the task of making bentō (boxed lunches) for the first time.
The Japan Times has published a very interesting article on how to make a tasty, nutritious and filling back-to-school bentō, here are some tips:
- A typical bentō lunch should contain at least one starch-rich item, one with protein and one or two vegetables, just like any meal. The usual starch is rice, but this can be bread or pasta or any grain that tastes good when it’s eaten cold. To start with, you may want to stick to foods that your child likes already, since she or he may feel intimidated by new surroundings.
- Cooking things that can be stocked in the freezer or refrigerator in advance is a good idea too. (For instance, if you make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, you may want to set aside a few meatballs for bentō the next day.)
- The importance of looking appetizing. Bentō-making tends to get over-emphasized, especially online. You may have already seen pictures of amazingly intricately decorated kyaraben (short for “character bentō“) or decoben (“decorative bentō”), with rice balls shaped like popular characters, intricately cut sausages and more. These are just embellishments, like accessories on an outfit, so don’t worry too much about it if you’re a bentō beginner.
- An easy way to embellish your child’s bentō is to use colorful and cute accessories. You’ll find a bewildering array in stores, from bentō boxes in all shapes and sizes (choose small ones for small children, with practical leakproof snap-on lids), as well as paraphernalia such as little sauce bottles, colorful divider cups, shaped plastic skewers and more. One warning though: Collecting bentō equipment can become addictive! You can also find ready-made edible decorations at your local supermarket, from “octopus” sausages to kamaboko fish cakes that reveal fun images when cut. Who says lunch has to be boring?
*Article by Makiko Itoh via TheJapanTimes (Makiko Itoh is the author of “The Just Bento Cookbook.” She writes about bentō lunches at www.justbento.com and about Japanese cooking and more at www.justhungry.com.)
If you want some ideas (ingredients, how tu put everything in place…), I will link a few sites below, just for general inspiration: